A compassionate, heartrending memoir of a mother’s quest to accept her son’s journey through psychosis.
One night in 2009, Tanya Frank finds her nineteen-year-old son, Zach—gentle and full of promise—in the grip of what the psychiatrists would label a psychotic break. Suddenly and inexplicably, Tanya is thrown into a parallel universe: Zach’s world, where the phones are bugged, his friends have joined the Mafia, and helicopters are spying on his family.
In the years following Zach’s shifting psychiatric diagnoses, Tanya goes to war for her son, desperate to find the right answer, the right drug, the right doctor to bring him back to reality. She struggles to navigate archaic mental healthcare systems, first in California and then in her native London during lockdown. Meanwhile, the boy she raised—the chatty, precocious dog-lover, the teenager who spent summers surfing with his big brother, the UCLA student—suffers the effects of multiple hospitalizations, powerful drugs that blunt his emotions, therapies that don’t work, and torturous nights on the streets. Holding on to startling moments of hope and seeking solace in nature and community, Tanya learns how to abandon her fears for the future and accept the mysteries of her son’s altered states.
With tenderness, lyricism, and generous candor, this compelling story conveys the power of a mother’s love. Zig-Zag Boy is both a moving lamentation for things lost and a brave testament to the people we become in difficult circumstances.
About the Author
Tanya Frank received her MFA in creative nonfiction at the University of California, Riverside. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Observer, and elsewhere. She lives in London.
By turns an eloquent meditation on the power of nature and a terrifying exposé on the hellscape of parenting a mentally ill child into young adulthood... [Tanya] Frank hangs her intense, readable journey on...the healing power of nature and community... This book will be a balm for relatives of people with mental illness... Frank’s writing is fresh with keenly observed details. — Beth Macy - New York Times Book Review
[A] moving, beautifully written book about love and mental health and life. Recommended. — Bob Odenkirk - via Twitter
A bracingly beautiful account of learning to live with uncertainty in turbulent times. — Rebecca Foster - Shelf Awareness
As she explores the sometimes painful limits of mothering, Frank candidly discusses the wisdom of letting go what cannot be healed or made whole in exchange for the gift of acceptance. A heartfelt memoir about family, mental illness, and unconditional love. — Kirkus Reviews
[Zig-Zag Boy] reverberates with a mother's fierce love for her son... Frank intimately depicts her family's heart-wrenching experience, rendering the unimaginable with grace.
Tanya Frank’s Zig-Zag Boy starts by chronicling a mother’s nightmare as her promising son falls into psychosis but ends up being far more than the story of what happens when we fear for the life of someone we love. A searing indictment of the medical industrial complex across continents, Frank’s memoir also offers a battle cry for new ways of looking at mental health care and reveals the deep urgency of valuing oneself enough to dare to heal in a perpetually uncertain world.
— Gina Frangello, author of Blow Your House Down: A Memoir of Family, Feminism, and Treason
Zig-Zag Boy takes us to the heart of loving and parenting a child in the most intensive and often heartbreaking way. Tanya Frank’s book is marked by wonderful storytelling, a wry sense of humor, and a determination to tell the truth no matter what. You will get lost in this story, and be better for it.
— Emily Rapp Black, New York Times best-selling author of The Still Point of the Turning World and Sanctuary
In unforgettable imagery and nuanced prose, Tanya Frank gives us an incredible journey—from a parent’s worst fear to an opening in the world—through patient observance and love. — Susan Straight, author of Mecca and In the Country of Women
Zig-Zag Boy is a wonder. I loved this book and the family at the heart of it. Tanya Frank masterfully tells her family’s story with as much grace, dignity, and compassion as she exhibited while living it. This is a beautiful book.
— Mark Lukach, author of My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward